The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is one of those acronym agencies that regulates a key aspect of the United States economy – the electricity grid – but tends to operate under the radar.
Not any more. With President Barack Obama’s appointment of FERC Comissioner and renewable energy advocate Jon Wellinghoff as the agency’s acting chairman, FERC will play a key role in the administration’s efforts to digitize the nation’s aging analog power grid to promote solar and wind energy while creating green jobs. The largest chunk of the stimulus package devoted to renewable energy – some $54 billion – has been set aside for modernizing the grid.
At a Nov. 18 briefing on Capitol Hill, Wellinghoff showed that he’s been thinking extensively about how to upgrade the grid to connect renewable energy produced in remote areas to population centers on the coasts. “In the whole Midwest of this country there are virtually no high- voltage transmission lines,” he said, displaying Google’s (GOOG) proposal to wean the U.S. from fossil fuels by 2030. “If you overlay where the wind is, all the wind is in the middle of this country – all those areas where we do not have sufficient transmission. Hopefully we can get the structure to put renewables on the grid and improve the grid to make it a smart system that can ultimately deliver these resources in an efficient way.”
Wellinghoff in a December interview with EnergyWashington.com advocated reviving domestic manufacturing of big transformers – now made overseas – to support the expansion of high-voltage power lines across the U.S.
On Monday, Wellinghoff called for electric cars to be integrated into the electric grid, according to a report by Dow Jones. He said FERC could structure rates to pay car owners for returning electricity to the grid from their vehicle batteries to help balance the power supply as more solar, wind and other intermittent sources of energy come online.
At the November briefing, Wellinghoff called electric cars part of “the glue” that will hold a green grid together and said the federal government should consider giving automakers like General Moters (GM) and Ford (F) incentives to produce plug-in hybrids.
“To modernize the grid, we need to define our goals and define a national tranmission planning process,” he said. “Let’s do it. We just need to get it done.”